'Most of process for leaving country will be done online'

Weigh and tag your own baggage: Ben Gurion Airport set for digital upgrade in 2023

Planned transformation to render check-in lines obsolete, slashing wait times, in step toward turning Israel’s main airport into one of world’s most advanced

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 7, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Travelers at Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 7, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Ben Gurion, Israel’s primary international airport, is expected to undergo a digital transformation next year that will see waiting times significantly reduced, the Israel Airports Authority announced Sunday.

According to a statement issued by IAA, the authority’s CEO Hagai Topolansky has allocated over NIS 50 million (over $15 million) toward the project, which he hopes will transform the airport into one of the most advanced in the world.

“A main objective of the IAA is improving services for passengers in the immediate future and, in the long term, becoming a digital airport and one of the most advanced of its kind in the world,” said Topolansky in the statement.

The transformation is expected to focus on bypassing time-consuming procedures for outgoing passengers.

In new service centers referred to by the IAA as Touch-and-Play booths, passengers will be able to independently weigh their luggage and pay for extra weight if necessary, according to the requirements of the different airlines.

Passengers will also be able to print out luggage tags and send their luggage to the plane by themselves, which will render the initial check-in lines at the airport obsolete.

Passengers line up for pre-flight check-in at Ben Gurion Airport on September 25, 2020 (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

The IAA has estimated that this transformation will shorten check-in waiting times by at least half an hour.

The authority said that today, over 50% of outgoing passengers prefer an online check-in process and that the Touch-and-Play booths will provide them with a wider variety of options and services.

“People flying abroad will only go through a security check after completing the check-in process for their flight — either by checking in online from home or by using one of the independent kiosks that will be installed at the airport’s departures hall,” the IAA’s statement read.

“Most of the process required for leaving the country will be done online and through digital means, maximizing comfort and accessibility for the passengers,” the statement added.

As the summer season approached and most COVID-related restrictions were lifted, millions around the world sought to travel after two years of mostly closed skies.

Illustrative: Travelers walk with their luggage in the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, November 28, 2021 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The sharp increase in demand, combined with a shortage of workers, many of whom were put on leave during the pandemic, created scenes of chaos in Israel and abroad.

Ofer Lapler, spokesperson for the Israel Airports Authority, said in June that there had been a 340% increase in passengers and flights at Ben Gurion Airport since March and that the airport was dealing with a shortfall of 1,400 workers.

According to IAA, some 10 million passengers have gone through Ben Gurion Airport in international flights. Over 2.3 million passengers are expected to pass through in August alone.

But the congestion felt at Israel’s busiest airport is not only the result of the pandemic.

Illustrative: Passengers wearing full protective suits and masks to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic push their luggage trolleys at the departures area at Ben Gurion Airport on January 19, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Over a decade ago, in 2011, Israel identified an urgent need for another international airport that would divert passengers from Ben Gurion Airport but has struggled to implement the decision since.

According to Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority, Ben Gurion Airport will reach its capacity of 40 million passengers and 250,000 flights annually by 2029.

An advisory committee recently established by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli to address the issue has considered various sites for the potential new airport, with the current leading options being near Moshav Nevatim or near the city of Rahat in the northern Negev.

The Defense Ministry has voiced opposition to establishing the airport near Nevatim, the site of an Air Force base, over security concerns.

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